Located in the Midwest in the Great Lakes region of the United States, Ohio is an industrial state whose automobile industry is only second to Michigan. There are many children available for adoption in Ohio, but understanding who can adopt, who can be adopted, and other Ohio adoption laws can be daunting. Whether you are just beginning your adoption journey or are ready to proceed full steam ahead, here is everything you need to know about adoption in Ohio.
Types of Adoption
In Ohio, predominantly there are three kinds of adoption possible. Private domestic adoption, adoption from foster care, and international adoption. Families interested in private domestic adoption will work either independently or with a local or national adoption agency to identify a prospective birth mother. When the child is born, the birth parents may legally consent to the prospective adoptive parents’ adoption of that child. In the United States, domestic adoption is governed by the state, rather than the federal, level. As such, each state has its own laws regulating adoption. If the prospective parents live outside Ohio, but the prospective birth mother lives in Ohio, then the Ohio adoption laws are the ones that must be followed. If the prospective adoptive parents live in Ohio but the prospective birth mother lives in Tennessee, then the adoption laws of Tennessee must be followed.
For adoption from foster care, the same rules apply as domestic adoption. Families interested in adopting a child from foster care in Ohio will need to abide by Ohio adoption laws. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which oversees Ohio’s foster care system, estimates there are over 9,000 children in the foster care system on any given day in Ohio. There are only 6,000 foster parents available to these children, and a great need exists for more families willing to open their hearts and homes. Currently, there are more than 2,600 children waiting in the foster care system whose parental rights have been terminated. More than half are teenagers and many of them are in sibling groups. Children age 12 or older must give their consent before the adoption can take place.
Families interested in adopting internationally will follow the adoption laws of the United States government rather than Ohio adoption laws. Because international adoptions involve another country, the laws of both the sending country (the prospective adoptive child’s country of origin) and the federal laws of the U.S. government must be abided. The U.S. Department of State overseas all intercountry adoptions. Children available for intercountry adoption are typically between the ages of nine months to eight years old at the time of placement. Some children may be part of sibling groups or be classified as special needs. Within international adoption, the term “special needs” has a variety of meanings. It can encompass minor, medically correctable needs such as hearing or vision loss or cleft lip/palate to more complicated, lifelong needs such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.
Who Can Adopt
According to Ohio adoption laws, any adult over the age of 21 may adopt a child from Ohio provided that adult has met certain home study requirements. Prospective adoptive parents may be single or married and may either rent or own their home. If married, both partners must consent to the adoption. Families who choose to work with an adoption agency will find that many agencies have their own eligibility guidelines, including minimum, and occasionally maximum, parental age, minimum length of marriage (if applicable), and net income.
To adopt from foster care, at least one prospective adoptive parent must be able to read, write, and speak English. The prospective foster to adopt parents must also have enough income to meet the basic needs of the child. International adoption requirements are set by the child’s sending country and vary from nation to nation. All prospective adoptive parents must meet U.S. Department of State guidelines including citizenship requirements, minimum age requirements, and background and home study clearances. A complete list of country-specific guidelines is available at the U.S. Department of State website. The website is also a good resource for finding the most up-to-date information on the status of intercountry adoption in the prospective adoptive parents’ region of choice.
The Home Study
No matter what avenue a family chooses, every prospective adoptive parent must complete a home study. A home study is designed to provide information of what life with the prospective adoptive family would be like for the adoptive child. The home study includes background checks and criminal clearances, employment letters, statements attesting to the family’s financial standing, medical physicals, reference letters attesting to the kind of environment the family would provide, and birth certificates and/or marriage certificates and/or divorce decrees. A state-licensed social worker will complete the home study. The home study must be completed in the prospective adoptive parents’ state of residency. Therefore, if a family lived in Pennsylvania, but were adopting from Ohio, that family would need to have their home study completed in Pennsylvania by a Pennsylvania licensed social worker. There are many documents involved in the home study, and typically at least three in-person visits must take place before the home study may be finalized. Ohio adoption laws dictate that the home study must be finalized at least 6 months prior to the child’s adoption, so families should plan accordingly and begin their home study as soon as they are ready. Pre-adoption education is part of any home study, so families should allow time for this as well. Home studies are valid for one year. If a placement does not occur within a year of the finalization of the home study, then a home study update must take place. This is simple enough to accomplish and typically involves only one meeting with a state-licensed social worker.
The Adoption Process – Private Domestic
Much of the adoption process depends on the type of adoption a family chooses. For families adopting domestically, they may elect to work with either an adoption facilitator, an adoption law firm, a local/regional agency, or a national agency. Families who work with an adoption facilitator and/or adoption law firm essentially are pursuing an independent adoption. In this case, either the adoption facilitator, or the adoption lawyer, or even the prospective adoptive parents will identify a prospective birth mother. However, adoption facilitators are illegal in the state of Ohio. Per Ohio adoption laws, “a person seeking to adopt a minor shall utilize an agency or attorney to arrange the adoption.” Adoption facilitators are not permitted to advertise to prospective birth mothers, making independent adoption in Ohio difficult. It is possible to still adopt independently in Ohio, but adoption law firms typically do not provide as many pre- and post-adoption services, including counseling services.
Families choosing to work with a local or national agency will experience much of the same process. The only difference between a local and national agency is a national agency has greater reach than a local agency, which may decrease wait times. The benefit of a local agency is that there may be an increased opportunity for more one-on-one interactions with both the agency and the prospective birth parents.
Both the qualified adoptive parent (QAP), adoption agencies, and adoption law firms may advertise to prospective birth mothers. There are no limitations to advertising, and advertising may take place in the form of billboards, direct mailings, newspapers and magazines, websites, radio, television, or personal representation. Once a prospective birth mother is identified, the prospective adoptive parents will work to get to know one another–to the level of which both parties of comfortable.
Under Ohio adoption laws, prospective birth parents may only pay the medical and legal expenses of the prospective birth mother. Counseling and living expenses may be paid as well, if a “reasonable and good faith effort” is done to pay these monies directly to the service provider. Living expenses may not exceed $3,000, and may only be incurred during pregnancy or up to 60 days postnatal. No monies may be given directly to the prospective birth mother by the prospective adoptive parents, all payments must be given either through the adoption agency or an adoption attorney.
When the child is born, the birth mother may consent to the adoption after 72 hours, but not sooner. Only after the prospective birth mother consents to the adoption will her parental rights be terminated. Ohio maintains a putative father registry. Birth fathers must register during the pregnancy or up to 15 days after the birth of the child. If the birth father wishes to object to the adoption, he must file a formal written objection, provide a reasonable alternative parenting plan for the life of the child, and hire an adoption attorney to represent him in a court of law. A birth parent may choose to withdraw consent 45 days after consent is given. In order to withdraw consent, the birth parent must show that it would be in the “clear interest of the child.” Once 45 days have passed, consent becomes irrevocable.
Once the child is placed with the adoptive parents, if the adoptive parents live in Ohio, they may return home. Otherwise, the newly adoptive parents must wait until their ICPC clearance (Interstate Compact of the Protection of Children) is obtained. After returning home, the new parents will follow the post-placement guidelines of their state. Once these post-placement visits have been met, typically over the course of six months, the adoption may be finalized in a court of law. The finalization of the adoption and the issuance of the final order of adoption legally makes the child the child of the adoptive parents, “entitled to all the rights and privileges as if born to them (the adoptive parents).”
The Adoption Process – Foster Care
Families interested in adopting from foster care will work directly with either a public or private Ohio adoption agency to facilitate the adoption. During the home study, an “adoption assessor” will work with the family to determine what type of child or children would be a good match for the family. Once the home study is finalized, the adoption assessor will forward the family’s information on to county agencies. Either the family, an adoption assessor, or the county agency will identify a child or children who may be a good fit for the family and vice-versa. The family will receive a social and medical history of the child along with information about the child’s interests and background. If the match seems like a potentially good one, then the family will indicate their interest and the family be formally evaluated by the county. If the county approves the family, then the family will have another chance to consider the child before a preplacement visit takes place. Following the preplacement visit, the child will be formally placed with the family. The family’s social worker and the child’s caseworker will check in with the family to ensure any issues and/or challenges are being addressed. The adoption may be finalized in a court of law after six months. At this time, the child will receive a new birth certificate and a final order of adoption decree issued.
The Adoption Process – International
The process to adopt internationally does not vary from state to state, so Ohio adoption laws have little bearing. Typically, after completing a home study, a family will work to assemble a country-specific dossier. Once the dossier is complete, it will be notarized, apostilled, translated, and submitted along with documentation from USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) to the child’s country of origin central adoption authority. Timelines and processed for matching with a child depend on the country program. Usually, once matched, a family will work to complete their referral acceptance and immigration paperwork, obtain visas, then travel to meet their child in the child’s country of origin. Every international adoption to the United States is carried out under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. With few exceptions, notably South Korea, the adoption is finalized in the child’s country of origin. In all cases, when the child steps foot on American soil, he or she becomes an American citizen. Readoption my take place once the child is home but, though recommended, is not necessary in many instances.